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Classic Map Review: 21st February 2003.

Game - QUAKE
Maps - Soul of Evil (13 map Episode + 2 start maps)
by - Dustin 'Tronyn' Geeraert, Rob 'Fat Controller' Cruickshank, Rich 'XeNoN' Thorne, Dean 'Rotpig' Turner, Travis 'Skunk' Peterson, Dylan 'Lithiumbat' Sartain
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Overall Verdict - An epic medieval unit, full of huge maps and great atmosphere.


The single player part of this unit breaks down into 2 episodes of 6 and 7 maps; 13 maps in total (2 secret), plus 2 start maps. There is an interesting, cool readme document supplied which provides a lot of interesting background story and material, adding to the atmosphere significantly.

There are number of custom models, modified monsters, and new skins, as well as (good) new sound effects. The skins are largely a matter of personal taste, i liked most of them, including the blue skins for the fiends, vores and shambler (makes a change from all that white as well). The best modified enemies are the axe-men, the dragons, and the fireball throwing, stronger hellknights, all of these are challenging and great fun to fight. The disciple's of the bane are good models and skins as well. There are also readable items (stone books) lying around which can give clues to prgression.

In terms of gameplay, you will find that monster-infighting [see above left screenshot] is important throughout all the maps, especially at some points when ammo is low. Having said that overall health, ammo and armor are for the most part well balanced. There is also the tactic of monsters spawning in to previously cleared areas - thus when you revisit or pass back through an area the player can never relax, new monsters could well be waiting around the corner. I played all maps on "hard" skill, easy/medium may be more suitable for novice players.

The overall themes of the episodes are as follows:
Episode 1 overall theme: green/brown rocks and walls. Yellow/brown skyboxes - earthy/autumnal.
Episode 2 overall theme: brown/green caves underground, submerged water and caves leading to blue stone wizards castle/"manse".

Episode 1 - The Autumn Citadel
Map 1 - soe1m1: Arms of darken wood
After 2 start maps, this is the first proper level, and its a good start for sure. A largish map by normal Quake 1 standards, (although not especially within the context of other SOE maps). Its notable for being a quake 1 map set almost entirely outside, in a series of rocky hills, cave, canyons and rivers and watery pools. And the natural terrain is well implemented, architecture is nicely proportioned, the sense of *scale* (not to big, not to small) is very well done here. Overall its a solid, well built level although there is some small misalignments and textures missing, but nothing significant. The highlight of the level is the excellent church, filling with praying grunts and knights, (which you soon disrupt of course).

Gameplay is good: well balanced, not too hard, as befitting a first map in an episode, but not too easy either as to be a pointless walk-over. The map ends with a nasty little battle with the nail-shooting grunts and a final 5 fiend ambush (fun!) for access to the "devils pass".

Map 2 - soe1m2: Devil's Pass
This map continues the outdoor terrain of the previous map and again features some nice buildings and detailing. Early on their a cutscene at an Altar where a shambler spawns in, and later a nicely built gold key tower which is well textured, lit and put together. Overall brushwork is good, and the architecture is imaginative and solid, without ever being completely spectacular.

Gameplay, in contrast, in a definite change and step-up from the previous level in terms of difficulty at least, although its not necessarily *more fun*. There are a lot of the modified hell-knights and "disciples" to face, this can become *slightly* repetitive, more variation in enemies might have been better. The tough gameplay is climaxed and epitomized by the vicious final 3 dragon showdown (the dragons have fireballs attacks, lightning bolts etc, very nasty), a word to the wise: try and get the 3 dragons to attack each other, rather than you ;).

Map 3 - soe1m3: The Fallen Village
This is a village (duh) in a decidedly *bad* state, broken houses, rooms, windows, wooden beams and stones lay scattered all over the medium sized layout. This is well done, although the overall feel is sometimes slightly claustrophobic and cramped and the tricky uneven floor, strewn with stones and suchlike can make fighting more frustrating than it should be. Progression is fairly complex as well, dependent on finding a whole sequence of buttons and keys, which some players may find confusing. Gameplay is also tricky and testing. Overall this map has a good concept, which is well implemented, but its complex layout may be slightly frustrating for some novice Quake 1 players.

Map 4 - soe1m4: The Autumn Citadel
This is the biggest and most impressive level in the episode to this point. Its the first real *indoor* level of the episode: A large castle, with a complex layout, the theme is green mossy brickwork for the walls with wooden beams everywhere as trim, plus brown wooden doors. In addition the architectural theme includes stained-glass windows and some nice detailing. With all the greens,reds and browns the feel and atmosphere of the citadel is certainly Autumnal.

Gameplay feels like a return to the more brutal challenge of "Devils Pass", although this time the main enemy is ogres, lots and lots of ogres..and then some more ogres (did i mention this map has a lot of ogres in it?). Plus many scrags, who tend to cause some tricky ambushes, modified hellknights, and a nasty dragon/shambler/scrags end-battle. Near the start of the map ammo and health are scarce but once inside the citadel supplies seem better balanced. Exploration is required to find the route through the castle and any of the highly useful 3 secrets (including armour).

Map 5 - soe1m5: Tower of Twilight
A modified *boss* map to finish the first episode. Before you get to the boss, there is an small open courtyard of 20 hellknights/knights/axemen to dispose of first, which is a fun slaughter as long as you don't panic.

The boss himself is a modified hellknight, with much faster speed and taking a lot more damage to kill. He is a good boss because he is not just static but moves quickly and fast which makes the challenge dynamic and skillful, not just the static strafe/dodge/fire of some bosses in other episodes/games.

Map 6 - soe1m6: Den of Zombies (secret level)
The first of the "secret" levels: a smallish, dark, underground cavern/cave complex, with various graves, wooden tombstones and altars. Filled with zombies, with some fiends added just to stop you relaxing. The fiends can make combat tricky. Some shamblers also spawn in, but overall generous and full use of the grenade launcher is hugely satisfying as you gib your way quickly through the swarm of zombies in this fun little break from the larger, harder levels of the rest of the episode.

Episode 2 - Subterranean Realms
Map 1 - soe2m1: The Blackness Beneath
The Action moves underground, as the title of Episode 2 suggests. And all your weapons have gone, you are back to just the single shotgun.

In keeping with this new setting and the start of the second episode, the predominant theme of the maps has changed subtlety. Now the main walls are a paler green/brown brick with finer detailing, differing shades of grey/green for the floor and ceilings too, mixed in with this are the same wooden frames and trim as before in a light brown. If all this sounds a bit uniform, don't worry, the lighting is very well done and creates good contrast and variation. Further the detailing is consistently imaginative and well-judged throughout the map, with lots of ceiling beams/girders and wall buttresses. The architecture is particularly nice around the gold key area and gold key door, at the end of the map, overall I would say this is one of the most impressively built and well-presented levels out of the whole unit.

The map is a fair size and the gameplay is again well judged, not too hard, not too easy. Vores (custom blue skinned) make their first appearance, a couple of secrets including armor and a quad damage once again can help considerably in some of the trickier areas, and monster in-fighting is also a useful tactic.

Map 2 - soe2m2: The Ogre Mines
A big, complex level, somewhat similar to the autumn citadel map in some ways, but with even more ogres. Its a huge underground mine complex, with much inter-connectivity and backtracking. The theme is the greenish/brown rockface, with wooden supports, beams and doors holding the whole mine complex up. There are various underwater pools and caverns where the enemy is scrags/fiends/ogres. There is some nice detailing with broken lifts and one very dark cavern with a button needed to reach the gold key near the end which is tricky. As expected given the high degree of inter-connectivity, there are many buttons to find and lots of exploration required.

Fighting is often tough, vores, scrags, fiends, etc, however both ammo and armour are well-supplied: clever players will look for ogres placed on high-above ledges and pick them off first before going-on to clear the tunnels/areas below that the ogres were over-looking. Careful and skillful use of the grenade launcher supplied in this map is important for overall success. Its a wonderful level; huge, challenging but not unfair.

Map 3 - soe2m3: The Subterranean Swamp
A significantly smaller and quicker map, presumably put in as relief from the huge complex levels that surround it, it is not hard and confusing or as tricky as the previous map. It continues the same theme of textures of brownish/greenish rock. Gameplay is somewhat simpler, although again a cautious approach (picking off ogres, nail-shooting grunts - who are the main type of enemy in this map - from afar) is recommended. There is some fun to be had with a Quad Damage and a cavern full of grunts and the final area consists of some tricky spawning (shambler/vore/shambler), but overall nothing too vicious for the skillful player.

Map 4 - soe2m4: Whispers in Shadows
A complex layout of caverns, stairways, and watery pool, all underground. The level is excellently designed so that you re-visit the same areas at different point or different (vertical) levels, as you progress through the map. With the curving stairways, leading out of watery pools, which the player must climb, to reach buttons and new areas, its somewhat reminiscent of Czg's excellent "Ceremonial Circles".

Like that level monster placement is excellent; Fiends lurk in the water submerged to catch the player unaware, scrags ambush you from above, and Ogres are strategically placed everywhere to bombard you from far-off, high up ledges with grenades. The gameplay in this level is certainly testing, and ammo is sometimes quite tight, especially near the start of the map. The GL is your best friend here.

Armor, which is dotted around the map (including 2 secrets) is very useful in this level, as is the tactic of monster in-fighting: I managed to trigger a particularly enjoyable fiend vs knights vs hellknight battle. The tight, challenging gameplay is what really makes this map stand out, its very well thought-out and balanced.

Map 5 - soe2m5: The Morbid Manse
Probably the best map in the entire pack, at least tied for first place with "The ogre Mines". A huge, impressively built Manse (Castle), the texture theme is blue walls, offset by Books (library) with wooden beams and doors. In addition there are many beautiful and very colorful stained-glass windows. The castle structures are blended expertly with the open rockface, and watery pools and cavern to create an excellent mix of organic and castle architecture. Most areas are re-visited and their are two or three main central areas, the Library, the room outside the library, the bridge area, which are impressive in both their scope and excellent sense of scale and proportion.

Gameplay lives up to the architecture: very tough, challenging but always fair. I like the fact that you don't get the Rocket Launcher until near the very end of the map, it stops the map being too easy, the grenade launcher requires a lot more skill to use effectively. The more i think about it, the more i think the Rocket Launcher is over-powered for Q1SP, maybe it should just be kept for DeathMatch.

Anyway, combat is excellent, and health is tight, this map will require patience, skill and good use of the armour found throughout the level. There is also a very useful secret Quad Damage, which if you can find you can choose the perfect moment to use it (at any time in the map), very handy. (Finally) you (hopefully) reach the last shambler and the exit.

Map 6 - soe2m6: Haunted Shadows
The final showdown; its you, some health, a red armor, ammo, and a whole cave load of very vicious monsters. The monsters include, vores, shamblers, Disciples of the Banes, Ebon Warlocks, and "the Master" (huge Fireball attack and can teleport at will). This is a very hard level, particularly on Hard/Nightmare skill, some players may find it (frustratingly) *too* hard. Monster in-fighting and dispatching of the Master as soon as possible are crucial to your success. If you persist the level can be completed but its a very tough challenge. Good luck, you will need it.

Map 7 - soe2m7: Highlands (secret level)
The second of the secret maps, in contrast to the first this, is large, expansive and set mainly outside, on the "highlands" of the title. Its a big level in the style of a village, with houses and building scattered over the hillsides and rivers. The texturing is somewhat uniform and the detailing is sometimes lacking. The houses and buildings themselves are done well enough, slightly reminiscent of classic maps like "Village of dread" and "Shadow over innsmouth".

To put it simply, this is one of the hardest Q1SP maps you will ever play. There are ogres, strengthened hellknights and fiends everywhere, and health is in scarce supply. This treacherous gameplay reaches its logical conclusion when a dragon ambush of at least 8-10 dragons appears simultaneously from the skies. At this point you may want to throw your mouse away and start praying. I completed the map (eventually): finally, the last castle/building is reached and the final shambler ambush takes you to a departing boat from a wooden dock and the end of the map. There are some hard-to-find secrets that may help. Maybe *because* of its challenge i enjoyed this map immensely, it has a very pure focus on gameplay, possibly at the cost of less focus and attention on architecture.

Overall Episode Conclusion:
An epic conversion, Soul of Evil is comparable to the 2 official ID mission packs and Nehahra in its sheer size and scope. If amongst all the vast maps and big gameplay some of the detailing in the texturing and architecture, is not up to those other packs, and some of the fine tuning in gameplay is missing, this is understandable. Soul of Evil was mapped by basically 1 person (Tronyn) with assistance from a couple of others: Nehahra had 5 or 6 mappers working on it, and of course whole software development houses worked on the mission packs.

What it gains by being (mainly) one persons vision and work is a very strong sense of thematic and atmospheric consistency over all the different maps, giving it a very unified and cohesive feel, more so, perhaps than say, Scourge of Armagon. Hence the pack has great atmosphere and immersion.

When viewed in this light it really is an astonishing achievement, a tribute to the determination and skills of Tronyn and the rest of the SOE team. I rank it as one of the Top 5 home-made/custom episodes ever made for Q1SP.

Overall Scores:

Episode 1- The Autumn Citadel
soe1m1 Arms of darken wood 17/20
soe1m2 Devil's Pass 16/20
soe1m3 The Fallen Village 16/20
soe1m4 The Autumn Citadel 18/20
soe1m5 Tower of Twilight 15/20
soe1m6 (secret level) Den of Zombies 15/20

Episode 2- Subterranean Realms
soe2m1 Blackness Beneath, the 18/20
soe2m2 Ogre Mines, the 19/20
soe2m3 Subterranean Swamp, the 17/20
soe2m4 Whispers in Shadows 18/20
soe2m5 Morbid Manse, the 19/20
soe2m6 Haunted Shadows 17/20
soe2m7 (secret level) Highlands 18/20

Overall Soul of Evil: 19/20